Jamie Dorr, executive director of the Midcoast Youth Center in Bath. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Youth advocates say there’s a lack of connections among local essential services aimed at helping young adults in the Midcoast, but a group of local organizations is working to fix that.

Midcoast Youth Center Founder Jamie Dorr and Regional School Unit 1 Assistant Superintendent Katie Joseph are partnering with Bath city officials, Mid Coast Hospital and the United Way of Mid Coast Maine to try to build those connections. The group wants to create a system that would make it easier for people in need to connect with local resources, from a food bank to substance abuse counseling.

“There are so many great resources in this area, but they’re all silos,” said Joseph. “They would make a lot more sense and would help kids a lot faster if they were connected, so students and families could get help right when they need it and not six months from when they need it. We’re finding that we all spend a lot of time looking for resources rather than spending as much time as we’d like planning thoughtful therapies and service plans for those who need them.”

To accomplish this, the Sagadahoc County team is competing in the Working Cities Challenge, a grant competition through the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston aimed at improving the lives of low-income residents in a competing community. The Sagadahoc County group is among eight applicants chosen to advance to the next stage of the competition and was awarded $25,000 to start designing its plan.

Melissa Fochesato, director of community health promotion at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, said the Midcoast is “fortunate” to have various services available, but they can be “difficult to navigate” because they’re not well connected.

“How can we take this web of services from strong partners and weave them together so it’s seamless to someone who needs them,” said Fochesato. “Let’s not duplicate what’s being done well in different places, let’s connect them first so we can give our youth what they need to thrive.”

Dorr said the group is focusing primarily on making it easier and faster for young adults ages 18-24 to access the resources they had available to them in school.

“Right now in our community, our 18-24-year-olds who aren’t going to college or entering a job training program fall off a cliff with support systems,” said Dorr. “Because of that, what we see are high rates of substance abuse and risky behaviors that we want to help change. The earlier we can identify someone who needs additional support, the better their outcome will be.”

The team said its ultimate goal is to tackle the starling percentage of young adults in Sagadahoc County who reported feeling sad, hopeless, or have had suicidal thoughts.

“We’re passionate because we’ve seen a steady increase in depression and suicidal ideation in our community,” said Dorr. “An all hands on deck approach is needed to change that trend.”

According to the 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, 35.7% (503 students) of Sagadahoc County high school students reported feeling hopeless or sad for two or more consecutive weeks, 46.8% of whom were female and 24.5% were male. Just over 19% (272 students) said they had seriously considered attempting suicide (25.2% female, 13.2% male).

Statewide, Maine high school students who felt sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in a row in the past year rose from 26.9% in 2017 to 32.1%, a total of about 17,000 students, in 2019. Students who in the past year seriously contemplated suicide rose from 14.7% to 16.4%, to reach nearly 8,900, the survey reported.

“We set a rigorous goal for ourselves to decrease the rate of hopelessness among low income youth in Sagadahoc County by 15% in 10 years,” said Joseph.

Fochesato said part of the team’s plan is to create “tangible” supports for young adults ages 18-24 like transportation, affordable housing and recreational programming. She said those simple things help give young adults a sense that they have a place in an otherwise aging community.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 23% of Sagadahoc County’s population was age 65 or over in 2019.

“We don’t think of those things as reflecting a sense of belonging but they are,” said Fochesato. “It’s more than saying ‘I care about you.’ Those tangible things say ‘I see you and I understand.’ Without them, what are we saying to a 20-year-old who’s looking for a place to live and work in our community? These are our sons and daughters who want to stay here.”

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